St Omer is a lovely northern French rural town and a perfect weekend destination; it’s also where a great Saturday morning market is held, one that lovers of French markets will adore.
The market takes place on the cobbled Grand Place (Place du Marechal Foch), a brilliant place to sit and watch the world go by and enjoy this elegant square heaving with activity. Surrounded by cafés and bars whose chairs spread out onto the wide pavement you feel as if you are are almost sitting in the market itself on a Saturday morning.
It’s a very old city with a very long history. Many of the houses in the old part of town date back more than 300 years, and there’s a museum with an impressive clay pipe and pottery collection that reflects the life of this town. The majestic Church of Notre Dame looms over everything and is well worth a visit, especially if you are a Rubens fan since there is stunning painting by the great artist there as well as many other beautiful artworks.
St Omer is about 30 minutes from Calais and the market is a big draw. Spilling out onto the winding little alleys around the square this is quite a sizeable market where you can buy food, household goods and clothes, but for me it’s the vegetables that you can get here that make this a stand out market.
Much is grown locally on the enormous marshes, famous for its vegetable growing properties, indeed this is the cauliflower capital of France producing some 7 million a year. There are around 13000 farms in the region so buying fresh, seasonal and local veg is never a problem. Lush, shiny and beautiful fruit and vegetables are in abundance here and if you pop into the little rue Louis Martel, just off the main square you’ll find it’s not just the bigger producers who tempt you but green fingered locals selling produce from their gardens on kitchen tables brought from home.
This road is also known locally as rue des gourmets thanks to the number of restaurants, bars, brasseries and cafés that line each side. In fact St Omer is a real foodie town with a huge choice of places to enjoy local cuisine from estaminet style with a Flemish influence to full on haute cuisine.
After the market try the Drie Kalders (18 Place du Marechal Foch) which has a lovely ambience with plenty to look at on the walls and ceiling! Push the boat out at the ever popular Le Cygne, on a fine day you can sit outside or enjoy the elegant interior (8 Rue Caventou). L’Histoire de Laurent Bogé (1 rue Henri Dupuis) serves delicious local, organic produce.
Don’t miss the St Omer library while you’re there (40 Rue Gambetta). A hidden gem, recently a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was discovered on its heaving shelves of about 35,000 ancient books some of which go back as far as the 7th Century. St Omer was an important centre of learning and the collection once belonged to the important and currently being restored Jesuit College that adjoins the library. When you go there you will discover it looks like an urban council building on entry, with an air of municipal swimming pool about it. Persevere up the stairs and round the corner to discover the surprising and impressive wood paneled library stuffed to the gunnels with an incredible collection.
You’ll go home with your baskets packed with goodies from the market St Omer, and memories of a very lovely town.
More about St Omer, Pas de Calais
St Omer, a delicious taste of rural France
Great Places to eat, St Omer
La Coupole, St Omer
Saint Omer Day Trip
Where to find the best bread in France – near St Omer!